Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told reporters on Tuesday that the settlements law, which retroactively authorizes almost 4,000 illegal settler homes built on private Palestinian property, ultimately also could authorize 10,000 illegal Palestinian homes.
The Yisrael Beytenu party head’s right-wing counterparts have presented the legislation as a necessary move to strengthen the settlement movement. Liberman, who opposes the new law, which offers compensation to the landowners, said “it causes tremendous damage” to the settlement movement because the legislation can also be applied to illegal Palestinian homes.
He estimated that only 2,000 settler homes would be authorized under the law, rather than 4,000, explaining that the legislation has a much wider impact on illegal Palestinian building than settler construction.
In a lengthy press conference that touched a wide range of issues regarding the West Bank, Liberman presented himself as a politician who supports the settlement movement, but who also understands the importance of keeping the broader picture in perspective.
His ministry is working to authorize 70 West Bank outposts, and has embarked on the largest building initiatives in the past 17 years.
Since the start of 2017, some 3,400 settler homes have been marketed and plans have advanced for an additional 5,000 such units, he said.
The United States does not like settlement building, Liberman said, adding that the Americans have, however, appreciated his bluntness in informing them of his plans.
His overall policy, he said, is to advance as much as possible construction in the larger settlements, including in the Etzion Bloc where he would like to see growth in the settlements of Efrat, Kfar Etzion and Alon Shvut. Liberman himself lives in the Etzion settlement of Nokdim.
The Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria is also working to advance plans for the settlement of Gvaot in Gush Etzion, which eventually will become a city.
Simultaneously, Liberman said, he was cracking down on new cases of illegal settler construction, including in the Sde Boaz outpost where four new modular homes were built last month.
Liberman rejected a claim by outpost resident Gidi Kalman that a land study of the outpost exists showing the new structures are on state property.
There is no such land study, Liberman said, explaining that it would take anywhere from a year-and-ahalf to three years to complete one.
This no tolerance policy for illegal building also applies to new instances of illegal Palestinian construction, particularly modular ones, Liberman said.
He reiterated his well known stance that the illegal Palestinian encampment of Sussiya in the South Hebron Hills must be razed.
In other cases, however, he said, he supported the retroactive authorization of illegal Palestinian construction, particularly in areas where settlers will never live, such as the outskirts of the Palestinian city of Kalkilya.
That plan remains frozen, he said, noting that it would have allowed the Defense Ministry to issue many more permits for Palestinian construction.
Ending the phenomenon of illegal settler and Palestinian construction is important, Liberman said, particularly with regard to the phenomenon of reducing the number of land case petitions before the High Court of Justice.
There are 400 such petitions, all of which were put forward by nongovernmental groups that receive funding from the EU. Of those, 120 are against settlement construction and 270 are to prevent the demolition of illegal Palestinian construction, Liberman said.
The Civil Administration needs more manpower so it can better deal with construction and other civilian issues in Area C of the West Bank, he said.
After the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accord, it was presumed the Civil Administration would eventually be phased out. As a result, retirees are not replaced with new hires, which has resulted in staffing dropping to 307 from 1,100, he said.
Lack of funds also hamper security efforts with regard to West Bank communities, Liberman said, in particular, with regard to the construction of smart fences around the settlements and better roads.
So far only 25 settlements have smart fences, Liberman said.
Improved roads would do more to secure the West Bank than more caravans on another hilltop, he said.
With regard to the larger West Bank security barrier, he said completing it at this time is not a priority, particularly when compared with smart fences and roads.
The defense minister had particularly harsh words for extreme right-wing teenage activists, known as hilltop youth, who commit violent attacks against Palestinians and their property.
“They are ‘deranged idiots’ who have caused enormous harm,” Liberman said. He recalled the July 2015 attack in which far-right Jewish extremists burned down the home of the Dawabsha family in the Palestinian village of Duma, killing three.
“This delegitimizes the entire settlement enterprise,” said Liberman.
He added that, in order to crack down on such violence, he supported the use of administrative detentions against the hilltop youth.